A year after taking on Cork at Griffin Park – the home of Brentford FC – Mayo were back in London, this time with Donegal the opposition at the home of non-league Hendon Football Club.
The game was played at Hendon’s Claremont Road ground in Cricklewood, North-West London, on 17 March, 1991.
Donegal were Ulster champions in 1990, beating Armagh by a point in the final, before losing to Meath in the All Ireland semi-final.
Having reached the All Ireland final in 1989, Mayo failed to get past Galway in the Connacht semi-final the following year.
The challenge match had been organised by the Shannon Rovers GAA Club – the driving forces behind whom were Tommy Goonan, Brendan Dooley, and the Coleman’s, senior and junior – and was sponsored by Ronan Travel, Harrow.
Mayo beat Donegal by 3-18 to 1-19 in an entertaining game that both sides took “very seriously”.
It was played out in front of an attendance reported to be approximately 3,000, all of whom “savoured the proceedings”.
The Irish World’s match report noted that while it wasn’t “a contest to satisfy the football purists”, the fans left Hendon FC’s ground “happy”.
Mayo 3-18 vs 1-19 Donegal
Challenge Match (Ronan Cup)
Sunday 17 March 1991
Hendon FC, Cricklewood
MAYO: E Lavin; P Butler, D Kearney, K Beirne; F Noone, T Tierney, J Finn; TJ Kilgallon, K Staunton; G Butler, C McMenamin, J Leonard; C Carey, T Morley, N Durkan. Subs: P Holmes, P McStay, A Finnerty, J Jennings, D Loftus, PJ Loftus.
DONEGAL: M Kelly; JJ Doherty, E McMenamin, M Gallagher; J Cunningham, D Reid, N Hegarty; B McGowan, B Murray; MI Gallagher, P Hegarty, D Bonner, T Ryan; B Cunningham, T Boyle, J McHugh. Subs: S Bonner E McMenamin, P Carr, C Mulgrew, B Tuohy, G Curran.
Claremont Road had been home to Hendon FC since 1926, before it was sold to property developers in the mid-2000s.
The club played its last game there on 20 September 2008, and has had numerous ground shares since.
Billed as an all-ticket match, tickets were priced at £5 and available to purchase at numerous outlets such as Mandy’s Irish Shop in Willesden Road, Ronan Travel, The Cock pub in Kilburn High Road, and Tara Travel.
Despite the size of the playing area being “too small for athletes of their pedigree” and the players continually finding themselves “running out of space”, both sides still “tried their utmost to play attractive and enjoyable football”.
Ultimately they succeeded, although the game lost some of its “bite” early in the second half when both sides rang the changes.
Colm McMenamin and Tony Morley impressed in Mayo’s attack, time and time again opening up Donegal’s “sluggish defence”.
In midfield, Kevin Staunton excelled, while other Mayo men to shine were Denis Kearney, John Finn and Noel Durkan.
After a scrappy opening, the Donegal defence was caught napping in the 12th minute when Tony Morley knocked the ball down into the path of Noel Durkan who had the simple task of raising the green flag.
Donegal clawed their way back level, but were let down by their goalkeeper, Michael Kelly, who allowed a speculate shot from Frank Noone to slip through his fingers.
At the break, Mayo led by 2-7 to 0-11.
It was virtually point-for-point after the restart and after 11 minutes of second half action, Mayo led by 2-11 to 0-16.
Donegal had a glorious chance to go ahead when Tommy McDermott was played clean through on goal, but his attempted flick to the net was easily intercepted by Eugene Lavin in the Mayo goal. The Irish World’s report called it the “miss of the game”.
Despite this, Donegal still managed to edge in front (2-12 to 0-19) thanks to scores from Declan Bonner, Barry Cunningham and Paddy Hegarty.
But that only served to spark Mayo into life and points from Staunton (2) and Durkan had them looking like winners. However, they hadn’t reckoned on Barry McGowan.
The Donegal wing back replied with a “peach of a goal from 15 metres to level the score in the 27th minute.
However, just a minute later Anthony Finnerty “careered through for a fine Mayo goal”. The best Donegal could muster after that was two wides from McGowan.
Points from Ciaran Carey and Tomas Tierney ensured the Ronan Cup was heading back to Mayo.
The Irish World’s report concluded that while the game “lacked the traditional high fielding associated with Mayo”, it more than made up for it with the “seer-like running basketball type passes that are now the most significant part of the game”.
Mayo went onto lose out to Roscommon in the Connacht final, after a replay, while Donegal were defeated by Down in the Ulster final.